Toward a Calculus of Transgression: Appreciating Jean-Patrick Manchette
Sunday, October 28, 2018, 5:00 pm, City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
Presented by City Lights Booksellers in conjunction with New York Review Books
Donald Nicholson-Smith and James Brook discuss the life and work of the seminal genre-bending writer
celebrating the recent release of
by Jean-Patrick Manchette
published by New York Review Books
Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942–1995) was a genre-redefining French crime novelist, screenwriter, critic, and translator. Born in Marseille to a family of relatively modest means, Manchette grew up in a southwestern suburb of Paris, where he wrote from an early age. While a student of English literature at the Sorbonne, he contributed articles to the newspaper La Voie communiste and became active in the national students' union. In 1961 he married, and with his wife Mélissa began translating American crime fiction—he would go on to translate the works of such writers as Donald Westlake, Ross Thomas, and Margaret Millar, often for Gallimard's Série noire. Throughout the 1960s Manchette supported himself with various jobs writing television scripts, screenplays, young-adult books, and film novelizations. In 1971 he published his first novel, a collaboration with Jean-Pierre Bastid, and embarked on his literary career in earnest, producing ten subsequent works over the course of the next two decades and establishing a new genre of French novel, the néo-polar (distinguished from traditional detective novel, or polar, by its political engagement and social radicalism). Manchette had been as equally influenced by the work of Guy Debord and the Situationists as he had by Dashiel Hammett. During the 1980s, Manchette published celebrated translations of Alan Moore's Watchmen graphic novels for a bande-dessinée publishing house co-founded by his son, Doug Headline. In addition to Fatale, Ivory Pearl, and The Mad and the Bad, Manchette's novels Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman, as well as Jacques Tardi's graphic-novel adaptations of them (titled West Coast Blues and Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, respectively), are available in English.
Born in Manchester, England, Donald Nicholson-Smith is a longtime resident of New York City. A sometime Situationist (1965-67), he has translated Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (Zone) and Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space (Blackwell), as well as works by Guillaume Apollinaire, Antonin Artaud, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Thierry Jonquet, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, etc. His film work includes the English-language version of René Viénet's anti-Maoist classic Peking Duck Soup (1977).
James Brook is a poet and the principal editor of Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information (City Lights) and the translator of many works, including My Tired Father by Gellu Naum and Panegyric by Guy Debord. He translated Jean Patrick Manchette's The Prone Gunman for City Lights Books.
Praise for Ivory Pearl and the work of Jean-Patrick Manchette:
Ivory Pearl is the kind of bold female that Virginia of Black Wings Has My Angel or my own Perdita Durango might have become had their lives taken a different turn. Manchette sets Ivory Pearl loose in perilous 1950s Cuba and smartly allows her to survive, a master stroke by a daring, innovative writer.
The opening chapter in particular is as sharp and brutal as anything Manchette wrote, including his masterpiece, The Prone Gunman. The obsessive details...might make even Ian Fleming feel uninformed...Noir fans won't want to miss this one.
In his final, unfinished novel, available for the first time in English, Manchette departs from crime fiction—but not extreme violence—to deliver a saga of high adventure...Thanks to New York Review Books’ translations, the English-speaking world has a generous sampling of [Manchette’s] unique fiction to enjoy. Idiosyncratic French novelist Manchette...went out in style. Short but sprawling, the novel packs a mean punch.
[Manchette’s] writing is lean and relentless.
In France, which long ago embraced American crime fiction, thrillers are referred to as polars. And in France the godfather and wizard of polars is Jean-Patrick Manchette.... [H]e’s a massive figure.... There is gristle here, there is bone.
Manchette is legend among all of the crime writers I know, and with good reason: His novels never fail to stun and thrill from page one.
Manchette called crime novels 'the great moral literature of our time.’ Manchette pushes the Situationist strategy of derive and détournement to the point of comic absurdity, throwing a wrench into the workings of his main characters’ lives and gleefully recording the anarchy that results.
New York Review Books also publishes:
Fatale - by Jean Patrick Manchette, afterward by Jean Echenoz, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith
The Mad and the Bad - by Jean Patrick Manchette - introduction by James Sallis, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith